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Object of the Month December: Charcoal Sketch by Jürgen Wittdorf

1. December 2019

Charcoal Sketch by Jürgen Wittdorf

December’s Object of the Month is a recent addition to our art collection thanks to the generosity of Boris Kollek: a charcoal sketch by Jürgen Wittdorf. Born in 1932, Wittdorf survived the Nazi regime and the war and received his art education in the early 1950s at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst in Leipzig. His 1961 cycle of woodcuts, entitled For The Youth, made Wittdorf famous within the GDR as, in the words of his friend Frank Werner, a “chronicler of everyday life.” Despite anger at Wittdorf’s “westernized” pictures from the old guard of the GDR, the generation of “free German youth” depicted with sensitivity and honesty in Wittdorf’s pictures attended his exhibitions in droves. The Freie Deutsche Jugend awarded Wittdorf its art prize in 1963, and an edition of 10,000 copies of these prints was distributed around the republic.

In his next print cycle, Youth and Sport, created in 1964 as drawings, wood-cuts, and finally tile murals for the Deutsche Hochschule für Hygiene and Körperbau, Wittdorf turned to sexualized images of the male body, images which survived censorship by idealizing the athletics program of the GDR. His intimate pictures of nude athletes, were, as Ronny Matthes has noted, revolutionary “even in the land of FKK.” In the archive of the museum we have multiple editions of For the Youth, as well as original prints and sketches from the Youth and Sport cycle and other works from throughout his varied career.

This new sketch, of a young bearded man, demonstrates Wittdorf’s mature drawing style. His sketches have an intimacy and freedom to their line not always visible in the more idealized woodcuts and monumental prints. A recent revival of interest in these concerns in queer intellectual and art production is located in what the art historian David Getsy calls their sense of “queer possibility,” a possibility that can “be located (as well as hidden) anywhere,” a “feeling of undefined embodied intimacy.” Despite the relative obscurity of Wittdorf’s works in the last years of his life – he stopped producing work in the 1990s, lost his fame as everything Eastern became unfashionable in the years after the reunification, and died last winter, eleven years after his partner – his works speak with startling freshness to this moment.

We are proud to hold such a large collection of Wittdorf’s work and to add this remarkable drawing to our archive. All through the month of December we’ll present the charcoal sketch at the café of Schwules Museum.